Treating OSA in Truckers: A Good Thing

How much can treating OSA in truck drivers really save?

Posted May 19, 2010

Well, it’s really no surprise. A recent study indicates that treating sleep apnea in truckers lowers health care costs and disability rates. We’re talking about obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common sleep disorder I’ve blogged about several times. People with OSA briefly stop breathing multiple times during the night when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep their airway open. This results in fragmented, poor sleep, as well as low blood oxygen levels. OSA has been associated with an increased risk for myriad health problems, including hypertension, heart disease, mood and memory problems.

The findings of this latest study:

  • On average, treatment for OSA led to more than $6,000 in total health plan and disability cost savings per treated driver.
  • Total costs decreased by 41 percent in drivers treated for OSA (compared to an eight percent decrease in untreated drivers).

That’s a significant cost savings. But what about cost savings for other industries? Since treating OSA has been shown to lower accident rates, I would guess that other industries that carry a high risk for accidents could benefit as well. Think about pilots, captains of cargo ships, commercial fishermen, and just about anyone who drives a lot (attention: anyone who lives in a commuting city!).

Treatment for OSA is pretty straightforward.  There’s no magic pill, but there’s the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine, or CPAP.  This device, which forces the airway to stay open so breathing is possible, is the best we have right now for treating sleep apnea.  Sleep becomes much more restful and solid; it also quiets the snoring that frequently accompanies that apnea.  People who sleep with a snorer often rejoice, as data shows that sleeping with a snorer can steal about 1 hour of sleep. CPAP has others ways of saving lives; I’ve written about the life saving benefits of CPAP in earlier blogs.

Because people who carry extra weight are more prone to OSA, it often helps to drop a few pounds. (I know, easier said than done.) Sometimes, just eliminating the weight factor can cure OSA. I don’t dare suggest that the cliché rings true about truck drivers, but in a brief study conducted by the American Dietary Association back in 2007, 86 percent of the truck drivers surveyed were overweight with more than half tipping the obese scale.

So it wouldn’t surprise me to see OSA being problematic among this group of people. It doesn’t help that truckers typically keep erratic schedules, sleep in less-than-ideal settings, and often fall under the category of being a shift worker, which carries its own set of risks.

But for anyone—trucker or not—who has been diagnosed with OSA, seeking treatment can result in measurable results that go far beyond monetary rewards. There’s something to be said for an enhanced quality of life. A better night’s sleep. A more vibrant sex life. A stronger heart. An easier time controlling weight. And yes, all those things are related to an OSA-free life.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™